Big win! BLM moves to cancel illegal oil and gas leases in Colorado’s Thompson Divide

Thompson Divide (Colorado)

Ecoflight, flickr.

The Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a final plan to cancel oil and gas leases in the “Too Wild to Drill” Thompson Divide, buoying hopes of protecting a broader area in the White River National Forest from drilling.

Energy development in this area threatens wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation and the economy of local communities. The BLM’s plan to cancel 25 leases in the Thompson Divide is a tremendous step forward, “enthusiastically support[ed]” by The Wilderness Society, after a decade of hard fighting. However, thousands of acres of sensitive forests in the White River National Forest are still open for drilling

Under President George W. Bush, 65 leases were hastily and illegally grantedwithout the required environmental reviewto drill for oil and gas in this Colorado landscape. In late 2015, the BLM decided to review the illegal leases and hold a public comment period to determine if some or all of the leases should be cancelled.

Now, the BLM is moving forward with a plan to cancel leases in the Thompson Divide, but there is still time to improvement this plan by providing more consideration for conservation for the remaining 40 leases before it is released in October 2016. We need to stop ALL drilling in these roadless lands.

Report: Thompson Divide & five wildlands “Too Wild to Drill”

Sensitive forests span the Thompson Divide. Credit: Peter Hart, flickr.

One of the most visited recreational forests in the country

Known for its abundant wildlife habitat and wide range of outdoor recreation activities, the Thompson Divide is a 220,000-acre stretch of the White River National Forest that President Theodore Roosevelt once described as “a great, wild country… where the mountains crowded together in chain, peak, and tableland; all of the higher ones wrapped in an unrent shroud of snow.”

With 2,500 miles of trails, areas like Eagles Nest Wilderness provide incredible hiking and backpacking. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS

Today, it contains some of nation’s most sought-after hunting grounds and retains a strong tradition of ranching. Anglers fish for cutthroat trout in the forks of Thompson Creek, and the landscape serves as a wildlife corridor for species like lynx, moose, bear, elk and mountain lion.

Spanning nearly 2.3 million acres, the White River National Forest is a breathtaking landscape that is one of the nation’s most visited recreational forests in the country. It contains eight designated wilderness areas, including the popular Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness with clear skies, challenging peaks and wildflower-covered hills. These lands are wild and untamedthey are truly “Too Wild to Drill.”

Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness is one of the most popular wilderness areas for recreation in Colorado. Credit: Mason Cummings/TWS

Leases still threaten sensitive forests in Colorado

While the BLM’s plan to cancel oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide region is great news for western Colorado, the fight to protect the land President Roosevelt praised over a century ago is far from over.

Nearly 50,000 acres of wildlife habitat and backcountry recreation spots in the White River National Forest remains at high risk from the remaining leases. We need to protect these critical unspoiled lands in western Colorado from the impacts of oil and gas development!

Thousands of acres of majestic, recreational wild lands are still at risk of drilling in the White River National Forest. Credit: Casey McCalister

In the coming weeks, the BLM could adopt a final plan that gives more consideration to conservation for the other 40 illegally-issued leases. This final plan is crucial to protecting the White River National Forest along with the local communities that rely on it for the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars added to the region’s economy each year.

We have made great progress in protecting these lands that are “Too Wild to Drill,” but the BLM needs to protect all of the roadless lands in the White River National Forest for future generations!